The Department of Food and Nutrition will sponsor its 18th annual “Community Nutrition Food Drive: Neighbors Helping Neighbors” event in Indiana County on April 28 to benefit local families through the Indiana County Community Action Program's food pantries.

The event is organized by community nutrition students and dietetic interns. They will collect nonperishable food and personal care items of all types, as well as cash donations.

Donations will be collected from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the following Indiana locations: Valeski's Fourth Street Bi-Lo, Wal-Mart, Giant Eagle and Big Lots. Other county collection sites are Merck's Bi-Lo in Homer City, Tate's Supermarket in Clymer, Wal-Mart in Burrell Township, and Shop 'n Save in Saltsburg. Donations are also being collected in IUP residence halls.

According to Professor Rita Johnson, director of the event, the demand for food through ICCAP has increased in the past year, and the program now assists 2,100 households each month. More than half the people benefiting from the food pantry are children and older adults.

“With over 17 percent of Indiana County citizens with income below the poverty level, many people need some extra help,” said Johnson.

A new emphasis for this year's drive is the ICCAP Power Pack program, which benefits elementary schoolchildren who are at risk of hunger when school's not in session. Power Pack sends food home with them for weekends and school vacations. The program serves about 370 children in nine schools in Indiana County, and additional funding would allow the program to expand.

Donations the Power Pack program can use are child-friendly, nonperishable items, including single-serving and microwavable foods, such as spaghetti and meatballs, canned soup, ravioli or lasagna. Other recommended items are canned fruit and fruit cups, pudding cups, 100 percent juice boxes, individual cereal boxes, canned meats and tuna, granola bars, oatmeal, fruit snacks and macaroni and cheese.

Items in demand for the food pantry in general include cereal, pasta, rice, canned fruit and vegetables, spaghetti sauce, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly.

In 2011, the food drive collected 2,520 pounds of food and $3,000 in monetary donations. Converting those funds to pounds of food brought the total collected to 31,794 pounds of food.

This year, Cengage Learning is the sponsor of this year's T-shirts for participants.